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Bedford seeks help in anti-Semitic incidents

Reports at schools lead to action

Bedford school officials are reaching out to community groups for guidance as they cope with a recent series of anti-Semitic incidents involving elementary schoolchildren.

The incidents, which included a game called “Jail the Jews,’’ took place at two elementary schools and came a few months after police say swastikas and hateful graffiti were found at Bedford High School and one of the elementary schools.

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Superintendent Jon Sills said he is holding a community forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at the John Glenn Middle School auditorium. He also said several community organizations have offered assistance as the schools try to move forward.

“I am reaching out to organizations that may have something to offer us,’’ Sills said.

Last Wednesday, Sills met with about 200 people from Temple Isaiah to discuss the incidents and the district’s response. Meanwhile, the Bedford Education Foundation agreed to pay for a speaker to address the community on a relevant topic.

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He said a local interfaith group of clergy met and decided to create a yearlong campaign called “Love Your Neighbor.’’

Sharon Dickinson, a member of the Bedford Clergy Association, said the incidents were the focus of the group’s monthly meeting last week.

“As a resident of Bedford, it just seems to me that if there are folks who feel as though they are being targeted because of their religion, the clergy need to have a voice in saying it’s a community issue and we’re going to work through this together,’’ said Dickinson, who is chaplain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

She said they came up with the idea for the “Love Your Neighbor’’ campaign, a mission statement, and a common prayer that can be said throughout different faiths.

Robert Trestan, the New England director of the Anti-Defamation League, said some parents and members of Temple Isaiah brought the incidents to his attention.

“The school has been on top of it from the start, and the superintendent has taken it very seriously and the community has taken it very seriously,’’ Trestan said. “One of the important antidotes to this is a community response, and these pieces are starting to be put in place.’’

Trestan said while anti-
Semitism exists across the nation and is not unique to Bedford, the number of incidents and the fact they involved elementary students is unusual. He said incidents are more common in middle school.

“One of the disturbing characteristics is that there are young kids involved in Bedford,’’ Trestan said.

In addition to the game played by students at one of the elementary schools, a child told her parents that a classmate told her they were going to destroy her country because she is Jewish, Sills said. In another instance, a Jewish child was told by a peer that she could not have a cracker because Jews didn’t believe in Jesus Christ.

Also recently, students discussing the difference between Christmas and Hanukkah made a comment that Jews were responsible for killing Jesus, Sills said.

Sills said incidents took place at both the Lieutenant Job Lane Elementary School and the Lieutenant Eleazer Davis Elementary School.

He said police have been informed but are not investigating the elementary school incidents because officials do not consider them criminal in nature.

Police, however, are still actively investigating the graffiti as hate crimes, said Detective Lieutenant Scott Jones.

“Even though it was last fall, there are still leads we’re following up on, and we’re encouraging the public to call us with any information,’’ Jones said.

On Nov. 8, a swastika was etched on a playground slide at the Lane School with graffiti that said, “Jews Kill Them All,’’ Jones said. Two weeks later, swastikas were found in a boys bathroom at Bedford High School, he said.

Jones said that it is unclear if the incidents are related and that no other graffiti has been reported since November.

“The Bedford Police Department, in partnership with the Bedford public schools, is committed to ending and preventing any further acts of anti-Semitism in our community,” Police Chief Robert Bongiorno said in a statement. “Hateful words and actions have no place in Bedford, and we will work with our partners in town government, the schools, and community groups to help rid our town of hate.”

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can
be reached at jflefferts@
yahoo.com
.
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